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Council to investigate SEND unit delay after mum says it’s caused her autistic son ‘unnecessary anxiety’

A mother has claimed that there has been “no support” for families who’ve had to “struggle through September” waiting for a Northampton specialist school to open. Tina Cotterill, from Bugbrooke, said that answers from education chiefs about the delay would mean “everything”.

Mrs Cotterill says she has been left exhausted after her four-year-old autistic son, Albert, was not able to attend the Hunsbury Park SEND unit this month due to project delays. Construction on the Hunsbury unit was halted due to constraints and the specialist facilities were split between two campuses, with a new annex made at Chiltern Primary.

Mrs Cotterill said they were only made aware of the problem at the end of June, and by that point had “nowhere else to go”. She also said that the past month has hugely impacted her mental health and family finances, with both her and her husband having to change their working patterns for childcare.

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“It has also had a huge impact on Albert,” she said, “The sudden change of routine has caused him a lot of unnecessary anxiety too. I know that we aren’t the only family that has been affected in this way.”

Albert, who has sensory processing difficulties and was non-verbal up until a few months ago, was supposed to start at his new school in September and remain there for his primary education. He will now have to change schools to the other facility for their key stage two unit, which his mother worries will cause further disruption.

The exact reasons behind the Hunsbury unit delay have not yet been addressed, with West Northants Council referencing ‘construction constraints’ as the grounds for the failed proposal. Stuart Timmins, the executive director of place and economy, told a council cabinet meeting on Tuesday (September 19) that he would be “more than happy” to put together a full report to share with parents.

Mrs Cotterill said of the proposed report: “It would mean everything. We still don’t know why it wasn’t built and we have no idea why we were promised a building that was not going to materialise.”

The council has approved the creation of 55 new SEND places across the next year, with 10 additional places at Hunsbury Park to be available in January 2024, and the final 15 spaces at Chiltern Primary being ready from September 2024.

Mr Timmins said: “At this particular time we have 100% confidence that these timelines will be met. If we see any change we will communicate immediately with parents.”

However, Mrs Cotterill echoes fears that there is “no trust in the local authority” after her own experience with being “given places that didn’t exist”.

She said: “I had to fight the local authority every step of the way. Getting a place at a SEND unit is like winning the lottery. The fact that they’re trying to make additional places is good, there’s just not enough.”

Councillors approved a proposal to allow 30 new children to start at the Chiltern Primary SEND unit from October 2.

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